Sandra Clark, Special to the Daily Press
VENICE -Outraged neighbors say a three-story home under construction where a fire began late Sunday night in the Venice Canals had become a fixture for transients since building at the location started nearly one and a half years ago.
It took over 100 firefighters to put out the blaze. The fire damaged five homes, including the three story home under construction.
The sprawling structure housed an unlocked porta-potty that many people used, said one longtime Venice Beach resident whose house is located directly across the alley from the sight.
Glen Searle witnessed the horrific chain of events first hand after being alerted to the fire when he heard loud noises causing his dog to get up and run to the window.
“I heard a noise, but I always hear noise in that place because people come and go all the time. There is a toilet and privacy in there,” Searle told the Current. “I think I was one of the first people to see the fire and what I saw looked like a campfire on a piece of plywood on the concrete. It seemed like a pretty contained fire, but by the time the fire department came, it looked like an inferno.”
Searle said he saw people coming and going the previous night, including a tall, man who showed up late Saturday night with a bike. “This person was there for a very long time and made a great deal of noise. He brought his whole bike in (the construction sight) and was covered in plastic bags.
“The alley is constantly littered with crack pipes. I find hypodermics. I see people smoking crack, and it’s been like this for a long time,” added Searle.
Another neighbor told the Current that there’s no doubt in his mind as to how this blaze got started. “It’s an empty house, there are no utilities, the fire started and someone ran out,” said Ron Orr. “We don’t call the cops anymore because they don’t come. They say their hands are tied.”
Irma Hawkins, 71, and her husband Martin Kasindorf, 82, watched in horror as their home for over twenty years went up in flames. Fortunately, no one was injured and the couple got their Standard Poodle named Bodhi before leaving the premises. For a while, the couple worried about their missing cat Emily, who showed up later that morning.
“The fire jumped over to our house,” Irma recalled. “I got out of the house and I thought, Oh God, they are going to be here. My house will be saved and that wasn’t even close. I know it was thirty minutes, and it was more than that when the water started flowing.”
The house has since been red tagged and is no longer inhabitable. When asked how she felt about losing her home of 24 years, the former clinical psychologist replied, “I thought, I get to move because this place sucks. You know it’s a renegade place. If you’re homeless, you can come here and camp on the street, and there’s no recourse.”
“You can do whatever you want. You can skateboard, and break into houses. It’s lawless. We are now living every other neighbor’s nightmare because this could easily happen to anyone.”
Many blame City Councilman Mike Bonin for his hands-off approach to dealing with the ongoing homeless crisis in Venice Beach and the surrounding areas.
“For me, this has been waiting to happen. This has been a ticking time bomb,” said Devon Daley who lives just a few houses away from the charred homes. “Many of the homeless live out of our garbage cans. We hear noises all the time, yelling and screaming. I can listen to it from my bedroom. People are rattling through the trash cans.”
“The city needs to address this head-on instead of passively allowing people to live on the sidewalks and suffer accordingly,” Daley added.
“Bonin is letting homeless people live and die on our streets. He’s not enforcing existing laws so everybody’s lives are at risk,” said local Charles Edward.
At 4 a.m., firefighters were called again when the ambers from the initial blaze traveled up to 441 Carroll Canal, sparking a roof fire that was subsequently put out.
Traci Park, a candidate in the Council District 11 race, visited the area around Monday morning and spoke to residents impacted by the fire.
Arson investigators were sent to the scene under a protocol for an incident of this scale, Stewart said. We asked about the neighbors allegations and were told there is no comment until an investigation is complete.